Four Weeks Down

Students finished their fourth week of school yesterday.  Routines are fairly established although there have been interruptions with students quarantining during the past two weeks.  Flashes from last year have been making appearances in classrooms as teacher navigate working with Zooming and in-person students at the same time.  I’m hoping this is temporary but no one has the confidence to say that’s the case.  When students remote into a classroom it changes routines and impacts more that what I can write here.  I’m moving forward and attempting to find lemonade in the situation. Looking back at the last month I’ve found ways to engage students differently this year compared to last school year.  This post highlights two of those instances.

Fortunately, this year my students have been able to work in groups. Words can’t express how big of a game changer this is and what a loss it was last year. Breakout rooms were a poor substitution. I’ve been utilizing whiteboards and math stations throughout the classroom.  While students work on tasks I bounce from one group to another to ask questions and to gain an understand of students’ thinking.  During the last few weeks I’ve been reading through Building Thinking Classrooms have been using some of the strategies found within. Being able to give feedback through questioning at the stations and hearing the students’ responses impacts my next steps as a teacher. I’d like to expand the time at stations a bit more as the year progresses and as social distance policies evolve.

Another strategy that seems to be working this year relates to how students interact during brief math conversations. Students are often given a daily math task or question that’s designed to encourage dialogue. Students take turns discussing the strategy or steps involved in attempting to solve a problem.  While one student is talking the other student is giving non-verbal cues that they’re actively listening.  Students are then brought back to the class as a whole group.  I visibly randomly pick students to share what their partner said during that time.  The student that is picked doesn’t offer their opinion about what the partner stated although the strategy is discussed as a class. I’ve used this at least twice every week since school has started and have noticed that students are listening better in their groups. Another bonus is that students are using the strategies that they hear from their partner/class.

I’m hoping to carry both of these strategies forward as the year progresses.  

Silver Linings

It is hard to believe that this school year closes out in three weeks and it is challenging to describe this year in a brief statement. While the school year end is near it has also been a good time to reflect on a few positive changes that have happened.  Before turning our backs on this year it might be beneficial to see if there is a silver lining.  That potential silver lining has nuggets that will help with planning for a more usual 21-22 school year.

Here are a few ideas to ponder:

  • I am still planning on using digital platforms like Desmos and Nearpod to engage learners in review and math exploration.  Although screen time will be minimized compared to this year, I have found that teacher-paced digital decks have potential and the data that is collected in the process pays dividends for planning.  On multiple occasions I have found myself taking screenshots of student work or quickly writing a note in the chat about a certain element of a student’s response. 
  • Every year I find myself thinking about how to curate a more organized library of resources.  This year has encouraged me to be more critical in how I organize my Desmos decks.  I have been using mainly Sheets for this and am hoping to be able to quickly retrieve this resource for certain skill next school year.
  • Along with the curation of materials, I believe local assessment practices have improved this year.  Since all assignments are online many resources moved from paper-based to digital.  A large chuck of time has been dedicated to that this school year.  My math unit tests have decreased in overall length which I think is a good thing and are more constructive in evaluating students’ understanding of the material.  Questions that were not clearly aligned to a particular standard were eliminated in favor of tasks that were more robust. I cannot remember the last time the tests were re-evaluated and I am glad that my team analyzed them with a more critical eye before digitizing them.
  • I have said this before and I continue to see the importance of having a brief “meet and greet” time as part of the daily schedule.  Checking in with students and allowing them an opportunity to discuss what is important in their lives helps create a better learning environment.  This year most classes have started with morning meetings or something like that to offer a listening ear to students as they traversed this long school year.  This has become even more important as students came back to school for in-person learning
  • One of the highlights his year was being able to meet with students’ parents over Zoom.  The limited time on video has increased the effectiveness of these meetings and has also provided an opportunity to meet where transportation/timing was not ideal.  I am hoping this is still offered next year along with professional development opportunities.

As I write this, boxes are sitting in my room ready to be filled up as I am moving classrooms again. I have to decide if items are worth putting in a box for reuse.  While doing this I should keep in mind that there are a few silver linings that I would like to keep for next fall.